A self-published children’s picture book that was written to help the author’s son deal with not being allowed to go to school during the confinement has been purchased by a major publisher for a five-figure sum.
Like many parents, theater director Anna Friend discovered that her son Billy, then seven, was struggling during the first confinement, and his behavior rapidly deteriorated. She and her husband pulled Billy out of school just before the first lockdown in March 2020 because he had a cough. Then the schools closed and he was unable to return.
“It was really traumatic for him, we didn’t go to school, so nobody went to school,” he said. “I was really struggling to connect with him. He couldn’t express it, he was getting extremely angry, having massive tantrums almost like a little child. Every time he asked, ‘Is it about school?’ I would absolutely lose it. So I wrote the book to try to understand what was happening to him. “
He asked an old friend, artist Jake Biggin, to illustrate it, with simple black-and-white drawings and lines that offered insight into a child’s thoughts. “Mom said schools were closed, no more games, empty roads,” Friend writes. “Then Billy thought, it might as well be, this new thing … did it start with me?”
The book changed the family’s experience of confinement. “I think Billy felt heard,” Friend said. “It transformed my ability to understand him. It stopped me thinking, ‘You’re being naughty, you’re yelling, you’re throwing things.’ I understood that I was traumatized, anxious and scared. It changed the way we dealt with him and that totally changed our lockdown. Before that point, as I am sure it has been for many parents, it was just hell. “
When the third block came, Friend and Biggin decided to self-publish the picture book on Amazon to help other children. They launched When can I go back to school? January 15. In early February, they had a five-figure deal with Scholastic for the title and two others on the “Big Little Hearts” series, one about the loss of a father and one about the arrival of a new baby.
“I was getting rave reviews, and the idea of going into children’s lives and helping them was ‘a job done.’ That was all the book was meant to do, help kids feel better right now because this is a horrible situation for them. So we were really happy, it seemed to be picking up pace, ”Friend said. “And then Scholastic happened.”
Friend sent an email to a Scholastic editor out of nowhere, asking for advice on publishing. Scholastic Publishing Director Leah James said that as soon as she saw the book, she knew it was “absolutely necessary to get it published,” and called Friend with an offer the next day. When can I go back to school? It will be published on March 11.
“The text and illustration convey the sadness of the situation, but they also convey a sense of hope,” James said. “As a parent, I know how close to despair all families are right now. This was the first book I saw that conveyed the struggle with such honesty. It moved me to tears. “
James praised the “honesty, simplicity and emotional nature of the text” and the “simple uplifting beauty of the illustrations,” comparing them to Winnie-the-Pooh illustrator EH Shepard and Charlie Mackesy, author and illustrator of the bestselling The Boy, The Mole , the fox and the horse.
“I’ve been looking for younger children’s books that successfully cover sensitive topics like grief, family problems, anxiety, for a long time. They are hard to find, ”James said. “Anna and Jake’s books are the first I’ve seen that really get to the heart of the matter at hand in a kind, honest and timeless way.”
When can I go back to school? It will also include mindfulness activities for families to combat feelings of anxiety. Friend and Biggin’s next books will be published in 2022.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism